‘-tch out!’

Maria glances left, then right, and shrugs in frustration.

‘Well, damn.’

The truck is gone; as is Kaitlin and the New York skyline. All about her is grey ash and mist, despairing figures hunched against the husks of ebony-black trees littering the otherwise featureless landscape.

‘Not quite!’ Comes a happy voice from behind her. She spins, and is confronted by a tall man in a fine white toga and a gentle yellow halo glowing above his head.

‘Alright, who are you.’ She states plainly.

‘An angel, sent from heaven, to grant you passage!’

‘Oh. Good.’ She mutters.

‘Not so fast!’ Comes a booming voice from behind her, laughing maliciously.

She turns to see a hulking red man, wearing a fine black suit and holding a folder of contracts.

‘Hi there. Devil. I’d love to sell you on hell.’

‘Sell me on hell? Eternal torment, damnation?’ She asks, one eyebrow raised.

‘Dude, I’ve got an easy sell here. Take a walk, wouldya?’ The angel grumbles, the sounds of distant trumpets echoing in his voice.

‘Oh contraire, my dear friends! Sweet Maria here has proven herself capable of incredible acts of deviousness and deception. We want her to run an entire department. No torment for employees. Well, not much.’

‘You’re not selling it, buddy.’ She interjects.

‘See? Heaven has a much better rep on Earth these days, and Maria’s done wonderful acts of good, too. She’s got an open invite through the pearlies.’

‘Oh goodie, an open invite to the land of badly tuned harps and armies of whining babies. Sounds fantastic.’

‘She’s got you there, mate.’ The devil snorts.

‘Better than your demons and murderers.’

‘And our rock stars, thought leaders, and brilliant minds?’

‘Yes, yes, you’ve swayed some philosophers. Good for you. We have all the good ones.’

‘Debatable, at best.’

‘What is this place?’ She asks.

‘Oh, here? We’re in Purgatory, right now. The big ol’ sorting ground.’ The devil explains, ‘Where we send devils and demons to collect the bad, and the boring are given tickets to one of the heavenly lands. A few folk don’t make it in to either, but they’re rare.’

‘Rarer is to be offered both.’ The angel adds, ‘You’re clearly a fascinating individual. We could use more folk like you; you could do great things with what we can provide.’

‘Oh, could she carve some statues in the clouds?’

‘Carving clouds? Not, uh, wood or stone?’ She interrupts. The devil smirks, waiting for the answer.

‘We, well we don’t exactly have-’ The angel stammers.

‘Tell her, buddy. Tell her how you don’t have any trees.’

‘Wait, you don’t have trees? Why!?’

The devil starts laughing, clutching his chest and coiling into strange shapes.

‘Look, the big’n has a thing against trees, OK? It’s just a hangup, y’know? Everyone has them.’

‘God. God hates trees?’ Maria says in disbelief.

‘Kinda.’ The angel answers. ‘Hey, if you want to spend all eternity surrounded by trees go ahead and take the red guy’s offer. I mean, you’ll have to string up a few folk through them, but that’ll be the least of your concerns down there.’

Maria glances to both the strange men, and sighs.

‘You guys suck at this.’

‘Rock stars! Creative freedom!’

‘Angelic choirs! Heavenly bliss!’

They both begin to pitch madly at once.

‘I’m good here, guys.’

They both stop talking, and stare at her in confusion.

‘What do you mean, child?’ The angel asks. The devil nods along.

‘Neither of you has done a great job pitching your whole deal. I’m gonna chill here, see if I can do anything to make this place a little nicer.’

‘But, this is just purgatory, dear. A holding place. Nothing happens here.’ The devil explains.

‘Sounds a damn sight better the other options. Who says nothing happens here, anyway? I reckon y’all just haven’t tried hard enough.’

‘We don’t even stay here this long, usually. This place is boring, and cold.’

‘Well, check in later. I’ll see what I can do and get back to you.’

‘Our offers aren’t permanent, young lady.’ The angel growls, discordant harps twanging at the edges of his voice ‘Refuse heaven now and you will never know it’s pleasures.’

‘It is unwise to refuse a direct request from hell.’ Booms the devil.

‘Cool. Glad you enjoy what you do, honestly. Take pictures for me, yeah? Really though, I’m good here. I like a good project.’

The angel and devil glance to each other, and the devil sighs.

‘I think we’ve both lost out on this one, old friend.’

The angel nods, and both vanish in smoke and light.

Maria surveys the horizon.